Cerro Gordo County Iowa
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The Globe Gazette
Mason City, Cerro Gordo County, Iowa
Thursday, June 07, 2008
by John Skipper

Sixty years of diaries illuminate an immigrant's life

PLYMOUTH — Thorvald SORENSEN has always worn his Danish heritage on his sleeve — and anywhere else he can display it.

He's a "Great Dane" and proud of it. Just ask him.

For the past five years, SORENSEN, 88, has been working on a labor of love — translating his father's diaries, written in Danish between 1911 and 1970, the year of his death.

The diaries cover almost every day of that time and are written in journals of all shapes and sizes, including check books.

His father, Lars Christian SORENSEN, came to the United States in 1905 on a fluke, said SORENSEN.

Lars' older brother had come a few years earlier with the intention of having his fiancee join him. But she married someone else, so the brother paid for Lars to come instead.

Together, the two men started a drainage/tiling business. In 1911, the year of his marriage, Lars SORENSEN, called 'Chris' by family and friends, started his diaries and continued them for the next 59 years.

"I don't know why he did it," said SORENSEN. "He just did. But there’s one heck of a lot of history in them."

The early diaries are about his work and about his family.

There are high times, such as the notations on the births of each of his eight children — and tragic times: "He lost everything and had to file for bankruptcy in the fall of 1927," said SORENSEN.

He said he didn’t read anything that surprised him, but there were some entries that might have surprised other members of the family.

"My father wrote in code sometimes. He would use code words when he was writing about things he didn't want anyone else to know about,” said Sorensen. "But I knew the code."

The first few years, the diaries include weather reports as the SORENSEN brothers traveled from one job to another. They often traveled by train until Lars purchased his first car from a doctor in Clear Lake. "He traveled a lot faster after that," said SORENSEN.

The diaries recount a time when the car died on Lars when he was seven miles outside the nearest town. Lars walked to town and found someone with a team of horses who came out to help him.

"My father kept up his diaries just about until the day he died in 1970," said SORENSEN.

He said he decided to start translating them to help him with something else he liked to do.

"I like to write stories," he said. "I thought there would be some good material for stories in these, and I was right."

A second reason for translating the diaries, said SORENSEN, was to provide something he could pass on to his family, including three children, six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Now he's having his translations professionally printed for the family. "I'll give them to immediate family. For others, I'll expect a donation," said SORENSEN, flashing a grin.

What's next, now that this five-year project has been completed?

SORENSEN pointed to a movie projector on a shelf.

"I've got a bunch of eight mm film that belonged to my late brother. It has a lot of family in it," he said.

"I thought I'd start going through it."

~ ~ ~ ~

The Globe Gazette
Mason City, Cerro Gordo County, Iowa
Monday, February 16, 2009
by Laura Andrews

A very special 90th birthday

MASON CITY — Thorvald SORENSEN was the guest of honor at his 90th birthday party in Mason City Sunday afternoon, but the party included two additional special guests.

Gitta BRAMS and Lis BRAMS MANCINI traveled all the way from Hadsund, Denmark, to meet their Iowa relatives for the first time and celebrate their cousin's birthday.

"We've talked about coming to visit for so many years," MANCINI said.

They decided to come about two weeks ago and arrived on Sunday, Feb. 8. They'll be here until the 20th.

"It was a real surprise to me," SORENSEN said.

The American and Danish families had been in contact through writing the past 15 years or so. SORENSEN has written books about his family's heritage and translated letters.

The trip has helped all of them learn more about their family history.

BRAMS and MANCINI even met their two aunts in Clear Lake for the first time.

"It's wonderful," MANCINI said. "There are so many nice people here."

They've also done some traveling around the state the past week. BRAMS said Iowa looks a lot like Denmark — it's mostly flat but lacks the sea they live near.

The food is mostly the same, too. MANCINI said they have McDonald's and Subway in Denmark.

However, they don't have basketball. The two sisters experienced their first game this week.

"It was fun, but the seats weren’t so fun," laughed MANCINI.

They've enjoyed the trip so much that they're already planning to come back. They'll likely be back in five years, which is when another Iowa relative turns 90.

Transcriptions by Sharon R. Becker, May of 2011



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